Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Marijuana: Your Child and Drugs

Guidelines for Parents

Young people today face intense peer pressure and difficult decisions about drug use. As a parent, this also means you must learn to cope with the possibility of drug use. Marijuana is a harmful drug. But in many communities, it is readily available to our children. Marijuana continues to be popular among some young people, who falsely consider it a “safe drug.” Marijuana use by teenagers has decreased in recent years. However, young people may try this drug at an early age — even during grade school. Studies also show that more than 25 percent of teenagers say they have tried marijuana before entering the 10th grade.

A 1990 national survey of American high school seniors notes the following:

Medical experts are concerned about these statistics and about higher-potency marijuana that is now available. The ingredient THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main mood-altering substance found in marijuana. When the drug became popular during the 1960s, the THC level averaged 0.2 percent. Today, marijuana contains THC levels of at least 5 percent, which makes it 25 times more potent than during the 1960s. Marijuana also contains more than 400 other chemicals that can be health hazards.

Why children are at risk
Children are more likely to try marijuana because they often are immature. These youngsters face pressure from friends who want them to try drugs. Recent studies on the health effects of marijuana show that the drug affects the brain, heart, lungs, sexual organs and the immune system. Marijuana distorts the senses, causes problems with motor skills and clouds
judgement. The effects of marijuana can make operating a vehicle or engaging in sports activities risky. In fact, marijuana use is a suspected cause of some accidental injuries and death among teens — especially from car and motorcycle accidents. Physicians also are concerned that marijuana use can cause growth and development problems in preteen and young teen users.

Marijuana can affect your child’s development in a number of ways:

Physicians believe it is dangerous for children to try any addictive drug, especially those that are illegal. Doctors have found that marijuana use may lead children to experiment with “harder” drugs, such as cocaine. Marijuana also can prevent children from learning how to become mature adults. Therefore, physicians are opposed to the use and/or legalization of marijuana.

Why do children try marijuana?
There are many reasons why children try drugs. Some of the most common reasons are:

Some children may think trying marijuana will make them “cool” or seem more adult. They need to know marijuana use is not a normal step in growing up — despite what other children may say. Make sure your child knows it’s okay to say “no” to drug use.

Stages of marijuana use
There are three stages of drug use that usually occur:

1. Experimenting with mood-altering drugs.
This stage is one of sampling and drug use in search of “fun.” There is strong peer pressure to enter this stage. Use is often limited to weekends, and there usually is no obvious change in behavior, except for secret activities meant to hide marijuana use.

2. Actively seeking drugs.
A threshold is crossed when a child begins to depend on marijuana. At this stage, the child may use marijuana to produce “good feelings” and escape reality. Usage increases to midweek. Behavior begins to change and schoolwork may slip. Problems that develop at home and school because of drug use may contribute to an increase in drug use as well.

3. Preoccupation with drugs.
There is a marked loss of control over drug use, and the user may become angry or isolated without marijuana. Because heavy use is costly, a child may steal from family and friends to pay for marijuana; this may lead to trouble with the law. Whether or not a child becomes a heavy user will depend on his or her reasons for trying marijuana in the first place. Help from family members, teachers, physicians or clergy can halt the process.

How to help your child:

If you think your child has a drug problem, ask your physician for help. Advice about avoiding drug use is just one important part of pediatric preventive health care services.